Family Court of Western Australia

Parental Responsibility

Whether a family is together or separating, it is the parents’ responsibility to make arrangements that are in the best interests of the child.

Each parent has parental responsibility for their children until aged 18 years. Parental responsibility is not affected by changes in the parents' relationship; for example, if you separate or remarry.

Parental responsibility means all of the duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that parents have in relation to their child. It is not the same as equal parenting time or shared care.

Equal shared parental responsibility means both parents share major long-term decisions on issues such as:

  • medical matters
  • religious matters
  • cultural matters
  • education
  • living arrangements.

Day-to-day decisions, such as what the children eat or wear, are not included.

Types of parental responsibility

If there are no court orders about parental responsibility, each parent usually has parental responsibility for the child. This means that the parents can make decisions about the child independently from each other.

If parents would like to create a legal obligation to make joint decisions about major long-term issues, they should make an order for equal shared parental responsibility.

If parents don’t want to create that obligation but would like each parent to have equal parental responsibility, they could:

  • make no order about parental responsibility,
  • make an order for each parent to retain parental responsibility,
  • transfer parental responsibility to one parent alone, or
  • allocate some aspect of parental responsibility to one parent, they should make orders in those terms.

If parents want to specifically deal with an issue by order, such as what name the child is to have, the order can be written so it deals with that issue.

Changes to parental responsibility

Each parent has parental responsibility whether or not they are married to each other, living together or separated – or even if a parent has gone to prison, travelled overseas, or become mentally ill.

In fact no change in circumstances has the effect of taking parental responsibility away from the parents, or giving it to anyone else. Even if a parent has had no involvement with the upbringing of a child, that parent still has parental responsibility.

Each parent has parental responsibility for their child unless a court makes a parenting order or other decision transferring parental responsibility, or some part of it, to another person (refer to s 61C(3) of the Family Law Act).

Parental responsibility may be changed in some situations. For example, one parent may have died or have abandoned the child, or have become too ill to play any part in the child’s upbringing. Arrangements may have been made for the child to be cared for by grandparents or foster parents or other relatives. The law deals with this problem by allowing courts to make orders transferring the legal responsibilities of parenthood to somebody else, or changing them in various ways. These are parenting orders and the court will make whatever order appears to be in the child’s best interests.

More information

You may find the following resources useful:

Last updated: 16-Apr-2018

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